How to Work on a Global Team

by | May 8, 2017

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How to Work on a Global Team

If you have colleagues or customers or partners around the world that depend on you, take a few minutes to read this.

The time you spend on this page can pay dividends, helping you to be a more thoughtful global professional—a more productive and efficient and dynamic team member.

You may already be competent and experienced in what you do. But working with people you’ve never met, people who are possibly thousands of miles away can be difficult, frustrating.

This article will help you undo those feelings, tempering your angst and unease. Or at the least, it should get the ball rolling in the right direction.

But first, in case you’re unfamiliar, let’s explore the positive elements of global teamwork:

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Global Work: The Benefits

While great for many obvious reasons, everyone working from a central location can also create limitations, especially in an increasingly “global” business landscape. The cloud, after all, has transformed the way people communicate, eliminating the barriers that once kept organizations tethered to one physical space.

Today, employers can safely build remote teams, benefitting in regards to:

1. Engagement:

Distance encourages independence among workers, promoting a sense of autonomy that empowers employees to focus on their goals and deliverables.

Remote work divorces people from traditional office dynamics and distractions, clearing a path for consistent focus and productivity, engagement.

2. Agility:

Working as a team in one location means being tied to the same core business hours and off-time.

Global teams, on the other hand, are more responsive and productive — more agile — because they often operate around the clock.

3. People:

Talent, not technology, is at the core of organizational progress and success.

The rise of the connected workforce means employers are no longer bound to the talent in their immediate location. The world is open.

4. Creativity:

A cross-cultural team brings a range of experiences and ideas to the table. A fresh, different perspective is always in reach when multiple nationalities are working together.

5. Culture:

Diversity enriches any team by bringing multiple viewpoints to the table. A talented team can then connect the dots, leading to original ideas.

That process is exciting. And fun. It fuels team chemistry and productivity, enhancing company culture one conversation at a time. This is true as long as employees have the necessary tools to effortlessly communicate with each other.

Providing this type of environment is essential to making work easy and efficient for everyone, regardless of their geographic coordinates.

That said, the onus is also on the employees to make their working relationships with international colleagues as smooth as possible, which can take some conscious adjusting …

Global Work: Adjustments

Global employees can benefit from adjusting their:

  1. Perspective (i.e., their overall approach to global working relationships)
  2. Technology (i.e., the details that make long-distance work easier)

Let me explain:

1. Adjust your perspective:

The word “sonder” is not a real word, per say. It was invented by John Koenig, who founded The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, which assigns words to common emotions that haven’t been defined (at least not technically by conventional sources, like Merriam-Webster).

Sonder is one of Koenig’s most famous definitions. It’s a noun. It refers to “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness …”

It goes on, but that’s the gist: We are all living with the human condition.

Sonder is an important concept, reminding us to be socially aware and empathetic, to be understanding of others. If you believe in these virtues, here are several ways to practice your beliefs, creating strong working bonds in the process:

Study your colleague’s culture.

Customs vary across countries. Completely acceptable behavior in the United States, for example, may be considered rude—even unacceptable—in Spain or Brazil or China.

To avoid unintentionally offending a colleague, make an effort to understand his or her reality at work.

Customs vary across countries. Completely acceptable behavior in the US, for example, may be considered rude—even unacceptable—in Spain or Brazil or China.

Build personal connections.

The Harvard Business Review says we all need friends at work.

Work friendships help keep us engaged, motivated to support the goals of our organization. Employees who work with people they like are also happier and more productive: A Gallup survey found that on-the-job friendships increase employee satisfaction by 50%.

These principles apply to global co-workers, too. And while you probably won’t forge best friendships with international colleagues, any effort you make to connect on a personal level (e.g., sharing stories, asking questions, sending cards) will make working together more enjoyable.

Avoid idioms.

Hearing a phrase you don’t understand can be annoying, even embarrassing.

When working with someone that has a different first language from your own, be cognizant; don’t use localisms. Clear language will make communicating a comfortable experience for everyone.

Be seen digitally, when possible.

Emailing is a quick way to get your message across, but it’s rarely personal. It’s a hard way to convey your personality and build relationships. That’s because most communication is nonverbal (about 93% to be exact).

Therefore, when possible and convenient, video chat. Show your face, your expressions. Your message will be clearer and you will come across more human.

When possible and convenient, video chat. Show your face, your expressions. Your message will be clearer and you will come across more human.

Be seen in person, when possible.

MANAGER: “How was your week with Julie?”

EMPLOYEE: “Productive! I’m glad we finally met.”

MANAGER: “She’s great.”

EMPLOYEE: “Yeah, I think it was also nice to just meet her, you know? This week, she wasn’t just a choppy voice coming through my computer. She was Julie—and now she always will be.”

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2. Adjust your technology:

Clarity and accuracy are essential to productive global communications.

Let this serve as a checklist:

  • Add a second time zone to your outlook calendar.
  • Add a “Country Code” to your email signature.
  • Add time zones to your meeting invites.
  • Modify date formats in emails and documentation.

Too long; didn’t read:

Technology has made it possible to work with anyone, no matter where they are in the world. This opportunity, however, presents knowledge workers with a new set of challenges to overcome, from establishing clear communications to building healthy, lasting relationships.

Conquering these challenges requires a conscious approach, an adjustment to your technology as well as your perspective.

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